5-23-02, 6:00 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals' secondary continued to dodge an arsenal of bullets Wednesday. But whether that is enough to convince rookie free safety Lamont Thompson not to go on the firing line remains to be seen.
With impeccable timing, Thompson attended his first voluntary practice Wednesday and sat out because of a dispute over injury protection. That means he had a front-row seat when starting cornerback Artrell Hawkins tweaked his knee enough to put him on the shelf until training camp.
Hawkins suffered a "high-grade injury," of his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his knee when he fell on it after diving to bat away a pass. Hawkins, fresh off his best season and a new three-year deal in the $5 million range, won't undergo surgery.
After Hawkins met with Dr. Angelo Colosimo to go over the MRI, trainer Paul Sparling said he'll heal the injury through rehab, and is expected to be on the field in nine weeks when the Bengals open camp at Georgetown College.
Hawkins thought it was worse than that as he limped off the field. It came on a day strong safety Cory Hall returned after he bruised his shoulder making an interception last week on a scary play.
Thompson agent Mike Sullivan has advised his client not to participate in any drills because of that very reason until he gets some kind of written guarantee from the Bengals Thompson will receive close to his expected second-round contract even if he's hurt before he signs. But Thompson, who wore a sweat suit and no helmet while choosing not to do any physical activity, didn't rule out getting some work in the six remaining voluntary workouts.
"Can't say," said Thompson of his plans. "Lord knows I want to be
out there with my teammates going through it. We'll what happens. I want to get out there and kind of go through it. Respond to what the offense is doing."
Until then, Thompson is learning the defense in the classroom and on the field from safeties coach Darren Perry. On Wednesday, Thompson stood next to Perry behind the defense during one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills and then next to his teammates on the sidelines during team work. The Bengals hope he'll see the tempo of the practices and get on the field at some point, but Thompson is also committed to spending much of June here in meetings learning the playbook after the practices end next week on May 30.
"I'll arrange my schedule to be with any of these guys," said Perry, who along with his fellow coaches plans to take some vacation next month. "I'm trying to get with them now to plan when so we can do a lot of extra work."
Perry, fresh off eight years in which he parlayed his knowledge of Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau's defense into a solid career as a NFL free safety, is able to tell Thompson first hand about how important it is in this scheme for the safety to know the playbook.
Thompson admits he's catching up after missing six days of minicamp and voluntary workouts because of the dispute. But he says it's not insurmountable.
"I'm behind, but we ran some of the same things at Washington State," Thompson said. "Some of the things are similar, it's just the different terminology is throwing me off a little bit. It looks like we ran some of these same fire zones in college."
Perry wasted no time outlining the generalities of the program, picking up Thompson at the airport late Tuesday night after his flight from Northern California. Even though No. 24 stayed hanging in his locker, Wednesday was a busy blur of meetings and physicals for Thompson.
He had no time to do things like reminisce with Bengals quarterback Akili Smith about the "interception," Thompson thought he had off Smith when he was a sophomore playing against Oregon.
"We both had the ball in the air and I took it away when we came down, but the ref gave it to the receiver," Thompson said.
Thompson got an eyeful of linebackers Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons and defensive end Justin Smith and knows why he's here.
"You get the sense just looking at it, this is one of the top defenses in the NFL," Thompson said. "These guys get pressure on the quarterback and that gives us a chance to go get the ball. That's one of my God-given abilities. I'm just looking to be one-eleventh of that and contribute."
The 6-1, 220-pound Thompson holds the Pac 10-record with 24 career interceptions and was rated hgh enough for the Bengals to pencil him in as the starter after they took him with the 41st pick. That's now by the boards because Hall is starting there in Thompson's absence, but Thompson says he's holding no grudges.
"It's a business. My agent has warned me about some situations and is looking out for my best interests," Thompson said.
You can get an argument if Thompson is doing the right thing by sitting out or not. Sullivan's position was bolstered earlier this week when tight end Bob Slowikowski, the Cowboys' sixth-round pick, tore the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee in a non-contact one-on-one drill. while making a cut and is gone for the year. San Diego fifth-round pick Terry Charles, a wide receiver , suffered the same injury last month.
But Bengals President Mike Brown notes that such injuries are rare ("We've got guys who are banged up but everyone is going to be ready for the start of training camp") and that players are subject to the same risks while working out on their own.
"These guys are not in a cocoon until July 26," Brown said.
Although the Bengals won't offer it in writing because they won't go beyond what is in the league's collective bargaining agreement, Brown has said the club will pay Thompson his slot in the draft if he gets hurt. The only other player in the NFL sitting out because of such a dispute is Arizona's No. 1 pick, defensive lineman Wendell Bryant.
SLANTS AND POSTS:** Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna is about to make the haul to Jacobs Field. His first cousin, switch-hitting outfielder Chris Magruder, got called up by the Indians from Buffalo earlier this week when Cleveland released Brady Anderson. Magruder, 25, acquired in an April 4 trade from Texas, was hitting .389 in his last four games with the Bisons.
They grew up in separate cities in Washington, but Kitna idolized Magruder's older brother and on Wednesday he got to thinking about his baseball career.
"That was my sport, I thought," Kitna said. "I don't know why the scouts didn't look at me. I hit .500 in high school, but I think playing shortstop and being 6-3 hurt me. It's OK now to be that tall as a middle infielder, but not then." . . .
Wide receiver Darnay Scott has been in touch with the Bengals and they hope he gets here some time this week to undergo some exams for his sore leg. . . **
UP CLOSE:** Bengals running back Corey Dillon got miked up for Wednesday's practice as ESPN continues to shoot next month's "The Life," segment. The most action came when Dillon engaged in a wrestling match with receiver Chad Johnson during a break.
Asked if it was the first time he had ever been miked, Dillon said, "In a good way, yeah. I just tried to be natural. Say what I usually say to
these guys. I don't cuss up a storm, but if I usually call a guy, 'Sucker,' I called him that out there. I just acted like (the mike) wasn't even there. I probably called (Johnson) 'a little punk.'"
Dillon tried to share the air wealth with teammates who aren't accustomed to such attention. He knows how rare it is to see the national media at Paul Brown Stadium.
"A lot of this stuff is on me, but it's a great chance for people to see the Bengals and Cincinnati," Dillon said. "The exposure is good for everybody. Hey, the camera was right there. If anybody wants, they can get right in there. I'm not a selfish guy."
The Bengals gave producer Andy Hahn and his crew pretty much free reign Wednesday, allowing them into meetings and the locker room. Hahn, who has done about six of these pieces for ESPN, hopes he made as good a call on Dillon as he did a few months ago on another under publicized star. Hahn sold his bosses on spending time with the Celtics' Paul Pierce, who has emerged as the rage of the NBA playoffs.
Dillon admitted he is getting a kick out of "being on a show that I've seen and cracked up watching and now I'm able to fool a little bit." After opposing defenses have put him on a billboard for years, Dillon likes the idea about being on about 30 billboards in the team's first outdoor ad campaign this summer.
"I've never been on anything," Dillon said. "I think I'm going to get a video camera and tape it so I can remember how it was to be on a billboard. I've been screaming at the marketing department for years. Not about getting me up there, but getting the team up there. That's the only way you can market. I think it's a great move."